I sometimes wonder what it was like to be a music lover in the seventies. So many bands with so many records and so many of them obscure…was it as big a treat as it is today to find something incredibly rare, as meaningful? Or were people so used to the slew of unknown bands and hidden gems splattered all over that decade that they didn’t think much about it? Perhaps an idiotic notion, but these thoughts happen when you rarely go sifting through vinyl; too young, in this day and age, to experience these things regularly. I then wonder at what lengths people would go to in order to achieve something as rare as this on LP form. Probably great ones, because Dirt Box, the lone album released by Blackwater Park in 1972, is herald everywhere for being one item on an audiophiles list of treasures they would love to get their hands on, with rumors of pricing reaching to the hundreds of dollars for the vinyl form. Rarity and value aside, Dirt Box is also an album of quality Krautrock to go beyond these sentiments and prove itself. Blackwater Park was a quartet hailing from Berlin, Germany. While three out of the four were German, many people, including themselves, speculated that they were special because of the single Englishman in the band, Richard Routledge. Sharing guitar duties with fellow axemen Michael Fechner, as well as the beings the groups vocalist, Routledge is also joined by Andreas Scholz on bass and Norbert Kagelmann, who was behind the drumset on Dirt Box.
Energetic and upbeat, the music on Dirt Box was quite common for other Hard Rock acts at the time; a dirty, metallic, overdriven tone playing Prog, with an obsession for adding powerful blues riffs and scales. Add some early Heavy Metal shredding, as well as catchy song structures and an epic tune (Rock Song), and you have yourself a pretty accessible record. Most everything comes together quite nicely on this outing, and laces in with the other instruments just as well. But Dirt Box’s real epicenter is its guitar work. Aggressive, fat, chunky riffs mixed with early Sabbath-like shred, and complicated chord progressions make this an exceptionally enjoyable listen for guitarists, as Blackwater Park’s only album is full of the aforementioned description. Yet it can melt in with the other aspects of the album to make it’s dominance a bit more subtle; for instance, in both Mental Block and Dirty Face, the melody of the guitars match that of the appearance of a Hammond organ, following along with at both pace and pitch. However, more often than not, we experience the fun craziness of rocking out, which is totally fine; the atmosphere this album gives out gets you in the right mood for the type of Prog you will encounter, thus heightening the aurora of Dirt Box.
Other instruments follow, but not quite achieving the ambiance or the effect the guitars do. The one that comes close is the drums, shuffling along excellently, adding accents and fills where need be, and as this is Prog (essentially…), there are lots of places to show off and flex your drumming muscle, which Norbert does quite awesomely, but also quite modestly. There is also the bass, to which anyone can pick up easily. This is a good thing, with Andreas thumping along, adding a nice, whole low end to the screech of guitars. Then we have Richard, the English vocals. He is good, if a bit tiresome at times. See, he doesn’t ever ‘sing’, just a genuine rock voice that he uses throughout the record. The singing isn’t needed however, because in-between the long instrumental passages his voice can is quite enjoyable. Consecutive repeated listenings of the whole album, though, may make you a bit weary of Richard, especially with some of the shorter songs. But if you take it in regular doses, Richards voice is an enjoyable one.
There are many qualities to the album, but there are also some faults as well, even some things that screw with your head and make you love something one day and despise it the next. The one great downfall is a Beatles cover called For Noone (spelt that way on the record). I don’t even like the original version, so I was more than a bit skeptical upon arriving on the last song of Dirt Box. But, given a choice between Blackwater Park’s version or the original, I would chose Blackwater Park’s version. Yet, I can’t help but feel that it’s such a downer for a closer track, and I predict that I will always be indifferent to it. Just one song before it, Rock Song, I encountered an unwavering shred epic, fulfilling my expectations of the album to the brim. I was all and content, but then, this cover arrives. I was neither stunned nor completely upset, but I was disarrayed, and annoyed that I would have to end the album prematurely most of the time to save myself a great pain. Another flaw, while not nearly as huge, is some of the stockish-ness. Sometimes the album feels similar to a lot of other bands during this era, and sometimes even drags in places. But, as these sensations are few and far between, they are easily smoothed over by the rest of the record.
On the whole, Dirt Box is a very addictive album, especially if you’re in the mood for rocking out, or just for some good old plain fun. Whether you are a hardened fan of this type of music or a newbie just starting out, Blackwater Park made an album to satisfy both parties, with strong performances all ‘round and great accessibility. And, in the end, Dirt Box makes you slightly sad that they had to break up so quickly after an album so fulfilling.